Three-student team wins first PioSolve Hackathon at MC

Roji Odari, Kade Hennacy and Shelby Byland sitting at a table

With 16 students competing on six teams, Marietta College's inaugural PioSolve Hackathon had some tense moments, but even more exhilarating experiences.

When the 10-hour event concluded, Marietta students Shelby Byland '23 (Coshocton, Ohio), Kade Hennacy '23 (Columbus, Ohio), and Roji Odari '23 (Blacklick, Ohio) won the top spot and the $400 prize with their idea to create Pioneer Wellness Group, a student-led group that makes mental health resources available to the community.

"It was really inspiring to envision students coming together and collaborating across different majors to create something that would benefit everyone," said Odari, who is majoring in Education Studies.

PioSolve is designed to engage students in problem-based, multidisciplinary learning by providing the opportunity to examine the root causes of local and global social, environmental, political, and economic problems while also finding creative solutions.

According to Dr. Jacqueline Khorassani, Director of Entrepreneurship, what sets Marietta's hackathon apart from others is that the recommended solutions must be in the form of a service or product that the student competitors can potentially produce.

"The students can't simply conclude their presentations with a policy recommendation," she said. "Rather, they must outline a feasible action plan for implementing their ideas."

Each team was presented with the same problem and spent the day developing solutions and presenting their ideas to the judges. The problem was submitted by Julie Wilkes '98, and it was "There is a severe lack of mental health support and providers and the time to care is long and costly. How can more people receive support and mental health in a faster and more efficient manner? How can various special populations (such as black, Asian, women, and veterans who may have specific feelings or needs) have specific support?"

The winning team was originally just Byland and Hennacy, but they added Roji on the day of the event.

"We were fortunate enough to have Roji join us. With three very different disciplines, we were able to complement each other's skills and make significant progress in our project," said Byland, who is majoring in Finance. "Our goal was to find a way to provide more efficient mental health services, and Roji's expertise as a future licensed therapist was vital in generating ideas. Kade's web design and software engineering skills helped bring our project to life through an innovative website. At the same time, my background in finance allowed me to develop a comprehensive business plan for the Pioneer Wellness Group."

Hennacy said the experience was enriching.

"I have participated in hackathons previously, and there are a lot of similarities. Initially, there is an adrenaline rush, but as you dive into the challenge, self-doubt creeps in, especially since you are unaware of what other teams are creating," said Hennacy, who is majoring in Computer Science. "When you witness their exceptionally polished presentations, it becomes nerve-wracking as everyone has done a fantastic job, leaving you uncertain about your chances of success. When you are declared the winner after so much effort and stress, it is an overwhelmingly gratifying experience."

Odari added, "Participating in the PioSolve hackathon was a truly enriching experience that I will always treasure. We were all in sync and worked together seamlessly, which made the whole process a lot smoother."

Each student agreed that team chemistry was key for the winning group.

"I was lucky to have such talented and hard-working teammates," Hennacy said. "Roji's enthusiasm as an aspiring therapist helped us draft a practical and comprehensive concept for Pioneer Wellness Group. Shelby's design and communication skills were essential in producing a compelling presentation. My role was to transform our concepts into a captivating and visually appealing website."

The three students were excited to win the event.

"Winning the competition was an incredible feeling, and it made all the hard work and effort that we put into our project feel truly worth it," Odari said. "It was a wonderful validation of our ideas and the skills that we brought to the table, and it gave us a great sense of accomplishment."

Hennacy added, "We chose Pioneer Wellness Group for our project because we wanted to create a healthier community through student-led action. We want to empower students with practical experience that might pave the way for a career while also making a difference. We think that our strategy distinguishes us from existing solutions, and we are eager to see where this initiative goes."

Kaleigh Eakle '24 (Belpre, Ohio), an English major, and Rebecca Young '24, a Music major, finished second and won $300 for the project Strings Against Stigma - hand-made bracelets with colors that signify various mental health conditions accompanied by special tags.

Third place and a $200 prize went to Nichole Boone '23 (Marietta, Ohio), an Educational Studies major; Emily Jones '23 (Athens, Ohio), an Economics major; and Kanae Yoshida '25 (Nagaoka, Japan), a Communication major. Their idea was to create a PIO 202 course aimed at breaking the stigma of mental health.

All competitors received a special PioSolve digital badge.